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A Bit More About RARB

The Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) was established in 1993 to give potential buyers of a cappella music some insight into recent albums. RARB reviewers are experienced listeners of a cappella; they are also often current or former performers themselves, alongside wearing other a cappella hats (read about our reviewers here). As an outgrowth of this deep involvement in the a cappella community, RARB's reviews in many cases include constructive criticism: we enjoy seeing contemporary a cappella thrive just as much as you do, and we appreciate the value of expert feedback in a close-knit community.

At the same time, we work hard to ensure that potential conflicts of interest among reviewers and submitting groups are minimized. Reviewers never review albums by groups they sang in or produced, typically do not review albums by groups that are associated with a school they went to, and generally are not assigned albums whenever there might be a real or perceived conflict of interest. RARB is staffed entirely by volunteers and is not formally associated with any other a cappella organization.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the pros and cons of submitting my work for review?

The decision to submit your album or single for review should be made carefully. With RARB's purpose and format in mind, there are several potential pros and cons:

Pros

  • A good review might help generate interest in your album, single, or group.
  • RARB does not charge for its services, and has nothing to gain or lose by publishing good or bad reviews of your work. RARB reviews are independent, third-party reviews, as unbiased (and thus as honest!) as possible.
  • RARB's lack of bias means honest constructive criticism — money in the bank when your next recording session rolls around.

Cons

  • A bad review might dampen interest in your album, single, or group.
  • If your album is not available digitally, you will have to mail 5 CDs of your album to 5 separate addresses, costing a few dollars postage.
  • Many months will pass between the time you submit your album and when its reviews are published (see below, "How do I get my album or single reviewed?").

The bottom line? Many, many artists have had their albums and singles reviewed by RARB. Many of those artists continue to submit each new album and single for review. These artists include high school groups, collegiate groups, semi-pro and professional groups, and solo artists. It is worth noting that RARB does not review an album or single unless it is submitted to us.

What are the criteria for submissions?

For our purposes, a "single" is a release consisting of one track, and an "album" is a release consisting of 2 or more tracks. Please note that individual tracks from your album may not be submitted as singles for review; instead, we encourage you to submit the entire album.

Albums and singles are eligible for review if released within the past year. (Possible exceptions may be made if your group has only just exceeded this timeframe.) More than one album or single may be submitted simultaneously, provided they are all recent enough; please let us know if you want to do this.

Moreover, while RARB reviewers are all musical fiends, as a matter of expertise RARB only reviews a cappella albums. Albums that are primarily a cappella, with only one or two songs including instruments, are fine. If your album includes more instruments, please let us know; we may have you send us a sample for evaluation.

How do I get my album or single reviewed?

The submission process is slightly different for albums and singles.

Albums

  1. Register by sending an email to submissions@rarb.org with your name, your group's name (if applicable) and the name of your album.
  2. Mail a copy of the album to each of three reviewers, to Mike Marcus (RARB Interim Technical Director), and to Kimberly Sailor (RARB Interim Editor-in-Chief). We will send you the addresses after your album is assigned. A shipping service that does not require a signature is ideal. The copies mailed to RARB must be the same as what a purchasing customer would receive; CD-Rs and other burned copies are not acceptable, unless that format would be sent to a purchasing customer. Once your album is submitted, it cannot be removed from the review process.
  3. After we receive your album, the three reviewers listen to your work for two weeks, decide what makes it tick (or harmonize, or thump), and submit their reviews via private online portal. (Albums are reviewed in priority order, with the first albums reviewed being those both received and registered; the order is indicated at our Upcoming page.) The reviews include written comments, as well as scores in overall categories (Overall, Tuning/Blend, Energy/Intensity, Innovation/Creativity, Sound/Production, Soloists; see further information below) and for individual songs.

Singles

  1. Register by filling out our online registration form.
  2. You will need to provide RARB staff up to three legal digital copies of your single. We will let you know how many copies are required and who should receive them once your single is assigned. Our preferred method for obtaining legal copies is to ask your distributor to provide unique download codes for our reviewers. Let Mike know if you have any questions about this process.
  3. After we receive your single, one reviewer will listen for one week and provide written comments and an overall score. Category scores are not used for singles.

Our reviewers are instructed to give their honest opinions. Some comments may seem harsh, but we believe honesty is the best policy. We encourage you to look at some of our recent album and single reviews, so that you can get an idea what they are like. Please keep in mind that some older album reviews are in a five-reviewer format; all reviews are now done by three reviewers.

Once the reviewers have submitted their reviews, the reviews are edited by Kimmie, Catherine Lewis, Dave Trendler or TeKay (RARB Editorial Staff) before being published on our site.

An announcement of the new review is sent to individuals on our mailing list. The email address you provide when submitting your album will also be notified when the review is published. If you would like to have other addresses notified, let Mike know.

Unfortunately, RARB cannot guarantee how long it will take for your submitted album or single to be reviewed. You should expect a period of several months, though quite possibly longer. Be sure to check the Upcoming list for the latest status.

What is RARB's scoring system?

RARB scores albums, singles and tracks on a scale from 1 to 5 as follows:

5 – Excellent
Top notch, outstanding, an example to us all
4 – Good
Many redeeming features; good, but not great
3 – Average
Your standard fare, could take it or leave it
2 – Weak
Has some problems that need work
1 – Poor
A real stinker, major problems throughout

Reviewers are instructed to grade albums in comparison to the general body of a cappella recordings available.

Scores are also given for albums (from each reviewer and averages) in the following categories: tuning/blend, energy/intensity, innovation/creativity, sound/production, repeat listenability, and soloists.

Tuning / Blend
Does the group stay on pitch and in tune? Do they gel, lock or ring chords? Do they match tone and timbre appropriately?
Energy / Intensity
Is the group appropriately fired up in their sound? If the song is a quiet one, do they sing with the intensity and feeling that the song requires?
Innovation / Creativity
Is the songwriting, arranging, and/or singing done in a new and exciting way, or is it just the same old stuff you've heard before? Can you learn from it?
Sound / Production
How are the studio techniques? Are reverb and other studio magic used appropriately? Are mics used well? Is there a lot of noise and distortion?
Repeat Listenability
How do you like listening to the album after hearing it a number of times? Does it stay fresh and interesting, or do you find yourself diving for the stop button?
Soloists
How would you rate the soloists? This can take into account both their voices and the appropriateness of their style for the songs they sing on.

Reviewers may consider these categories when commenting or deciding on overall or track scores, but they do not have to.

How can I become a RARB reviewer?

RARB accepts new reviewers on a rolling basis. If you are interested in becoming a RARB reviewer, please send an email to apply@rarb.org

How is RARB being used as a teaching aid?

Here's how one educator (RARB alumnus Brock Harris) has used a cappella and RARB reviews as teaching aids in the past (reprinted with permission). (Brock wrote this before he became a RARB reviewer.)

Chris,

I was going to reply at some length for posting on the newsgroup, but I'll fill you in now. I teach vocal music at Burbank High School. I have about 200 kids in three different choirs and four ensembles. I'm just out of school, USC, a college a cappella veteran. Anyway, my choirs do a lot of "non-traditional" choir arrangements, as you can probably imagine, and I'm also a big advocate of the recording experience as a peak time for choral improvement and focus.

That being the case, I use a lot of recordings in class as examples and models. The BOCA albums and Off the Beat mostly fill the bill. In the case of No Static, for example, I brought in the album to my advanced mixed choir, and we listened to it for about 40 minutes - clips, repeats, almost every song. Of course they get a huge kick out of it, and the motivation alone would be reason enough to listen.

This is going to be the gist of my thesis, how to use recordings in a classroom, particularly how contemporary a cappella can serve as a model of proper vocal production. There are a few more angles on the thesis that I'm looking at, and when I figure it out exactly I'll drop you guys a line.

Anyway, once my choirs and ensembles were beginning to make their own recordings (just this year), I thought the RARB reviews would validate what I preach everyday (great for them to hear it from another source. Basically I print out the reviews in full, including scores, photocopy double sided, then hand them out. We listen to the albums then read the all the reviews in class. Sometimes, if I don't have the album, I'll print out some reviews that talk about what I want them to hear, usually energy and passion in the studio, a big problem with young singers (or any singers!).

There are a few things I've noticed already: having kids write their own reviews, even in brief note form, BEFORE reading the RARB reviews, makes them listen a lot more closely. Playing a handful of full-length songs, instead of a bunch of clips, seems to be more satisfying to the students. Mostly, the RARB reviews turn the kids into critical listeners, a key step in achieving quality recordings and performances. It's hard to get them to listen critically to the Mormon Tabernacle choir to teach good vocal production, but for obvious reasons Off the Beat doing Jewel is fantastically engaging.

So keep up the good work. There are 200 of us in Burbank who reap huge benefits from the work of you and your reviewers.

Brock Harris

How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

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